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Two Weeks in Germany with A+A

My parents visited for two weeks at the beginning of May.  It was their second visit to Germany; the first was for their honeymoon in 1979. At that time they stayed in Heidelberg with friends who took them sightseeing in the Alps, to Munich, and across the villages of Bavaria.

Afterwards my grandparents charted my parent’s travels, (as well as their own) on a road map of Germany.  The map was dusted off and given to us to record our journeys when we moved, and Derek and I unpacked it to see where they had been.

Their route had missed the Franconian cities of  Würzburg, Nuremberg, and Bamberg — We were excited to show them some ‘new’ sights in the region of Bavaria where we have been living. We also planned a 4-day getaway to the Rheingau and Mittelrhein (also known as the “Romantic Rhine” ) to take in the wine, scenery and half-timber villages.

Here is a selection of photos from their visit!

 

Würzburg 

My parents first visit to Germany was in the month of November (’79), so they were enthusiastic about a return trip in the Spring. Soon after their arrival they were charmed by Würzburg for all of the reasons we enjoy it.  The trees and flowers had bloomed and the biergartens and outdoor cafés  were newly open for the season.  Everyone seemed to be outdoors and the city was at its loveliest.

We showed them the sights of the city: the Residenz (a renaissance palace built by the Würzburg prince-bishops) and Festung Marienberg (the medieval defensive fortress of the city).  We biked along the Main River and stopped at the villages of Veitshöchheim and Sommerhausen.   We ate plenty of Wurst and traditional Franconian food and drank Würzburg wine and introduced my dad to a few of the local beers!

Below:  The Würzburg Residenz and garden;  and the wall of Festung Marienberg

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Nuremberg

Their trip spanned May 1, which is a national holiday in Germany and a day-off of work for Derek.  We all took an hour train to spend the day in Nuremberg which continues to be one of my favorite cities. Nuremberg is a unique city for visitors; the Gothic architecture of the Altstadt is quite impressive and different from other German cities, and a world-away from the cities of the American midwest.

A day in Nuremberg wouldn’t be complete (for us) without some rain. The damp, moody skies set an appropriate tone for this city.  We visited St Lorenz Cathedral (a must-see) and walked along the covered city wall of the Kaiserberg, the 11th C fortress. And we drank Nuremberg beer and ate the city’s specialty sausage, Drei im Weckla “Three in a Bun”.

Below:  Nuremberg Altstadt and Albrecht Durer Square

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Lunch in Mainz

The next morning we packed the car and left for the Rheingau, a Riesling wine region near the city of Mainz.  It was a hazy, bright Saturday so we stopped for lunch and walked through the market where people were out buying produce and sampling the fresh wines of the season.  Mainz had been beckoning us for some time and our quick stop encouraged us to return.  The city has a museum dedicated to the Gutenberg press, the typesetting technology that created the first printed book (the Bible) and the city became a place where the mass-production of books was possible.

Below:  Mainz Cathedral and Market square

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4-Days on the Rhine River

Our destination was Hattenheim, a quiet wine village on the Rhine. We rented a cottage that was once a horse stable belonging to the Hessian state winery.  Our host told us how she had restored the property as a guesthouse. The space was perfect for the four of us– cozy and comfortable and an ideal base for day trips to villages along the River.

The lure of the Rheingau is that it is the center of Riesling wine region.  We stayed in an area where winemaking has been present for at least a thousand years.  We wandered to the village’s wine garden where you can bring a picnic and order glasses of fresh local wine and sit by the river.

The Riesling wines that we knew of before our visit were sweet, sparkling dessert wines. We tasted an excellent trocken (dry) white Riesling from a small vineyard in Hattenheim called Irene Söngen.   Rieslings really come to life paired with the season’s harvests– fresh strawberries and asparagus.

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We hiked a short stretch of the long-distance hiking trail, the Rheinsteig, from St Goarhausen to the overlook of the famed Loreley Rock.   The Rhine is a commercial route used by barges to transport goods arriving from the North Sea. The legend of the rock is that the bend in the river was so narrow and sharp that many ships sank under the watch of the mythical mermaid, Loreley.

The next day we rented bikes and peddled along the river from Bingen to Bacharach. The Mittelrhein “Middle Rhine” is a protected world heritage site and is a popular area for river boats and tourists. There are 40 castles and fortresses perched above the river amidst steep vineyards.  The castles were built by competing knights, princes, and bishops as toll-stops for merchant ships — Iron chains blocked the river and guaranteed payment for passage. We stopped at Burg Stahleck, which is now a youth hostel — and Burg Rheinstein, a privately owned museum and hotel.

Below:   Ferrying across the River to Bingen; The river bend at Bacharach; Derek at Burg Stahleck, Burg Rheinstein; The cottage in Hattenheim.
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Bamberg

The next weekend we daytripped to another historic city, Bamberg. Derek and I spent an afternoon in Bamberg over Easter of last year (we wrote about it here).   We enjoyed this round more; the city was warmer and busier than it was last year in early April!

In the region of Franconia, May is peak season for Spargel  “white asparagus” (The green type of asparagus is appropriately named Grün-Spargel).   Spargel has a short harvest, and Germans appear to savor it.  This vegetable ‘delicacy’ has not seen daylight, which is the reason it remains white.

At this time of year the announcement of Spargel appears on the signboards of Franconian restaurants ‘Wir haben Spargel!’ and is served with a cream sauce, or pureed into a creamy soup.  We were discussing how it is grown when we saw a field of covered Spargel mounds!

Disclaimer: I am going to venture out onto a limb. My personal thoughts are that Spargel is not bad, but is far from delightful. Its soft cooked texture requires barely any chewing.

Below:  Bamberg’s Rathaus, Spargel for sale in the market, Spargel mounds.

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Mother’s Day!

My parents last day in Germany was Mother’s Day.   We spent the day in Würzburg, and had an al fresco brunch at Caféhaus Michel in Würzburg.   We walked through the gardens at the Residenz and Fortress, had a special dinner,  and toasted to a great trip on the Alte Mainbrücke with a glass of Würzburger Bacchus.  Prost!

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Links

Video: Germany’s Romantic Rhine and Rothenburg Rick Steve’s Europe

Understanding German Wines  Tim Glaser, Master Sommelier

Germans Go Crazy for White Asparagus DW.de

 

 

Hike in the Alps with Molly and Alex

Molly and Alex were our first visitors of the year and stayed with us for nine days at the end of March!  We knew that they would be great companions for an all-day hike in the mountains so we began planning a short getaway to the Alps.

The morning after they arrived we packed-up the car and headed south for what was expected to be a spring-like weekend in the Montafon valley of Austria. It was Molly and Alex’s first visit to the Alps, and our first to the Vorarlberg.

This corner of Austria shares a border with Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein and is a popular area for skiing and winter activities. We stayed in Bartholomäberg, a mountainside village that overlooks the small city of Schruns in the valley. The hills of Bartholomaeberg are grassy pastureland that are home to residences and several small farms. Higher there are wooded hiking trails with rocky terrain near the top.  It had several options for Winterwandern ‘winter hiking’ (snowshoe trails and groomed winter hiking paths) which made it the perfect base for the next few days.

 

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We were there during the last week of March, a quiet time to visit.  Some of the Alpine Huttes and Gastofs that serve as hiking destinations were closed for a week of ‘spring break’ before re-opening for the summer tourism season.   We were in search of a traditional Austrian house to stay in and found a cozy two-bedroom apartment in the lower level of a country home. The family operates a small farm with cows and small animals. They gave us a genuine welcome and shared that we were their first visitors from the USA!  It was an extra treat when Sabine baked us the most amazing loaf of spelt bread on our last night.

 

Hiking Day 1: Wannaköpfle

The next morning we packed lunches and set off early for a day-long hike. We began from the town center of Bartholomaeberg (1087 m) and reached the peak at Wannaköpfle (2031m) a few hours later.   The valley was clear of snow so we decided on a snowshoe trail that would take us through the most scenic hiking areas.

There was snow sooner than we expected!! We alternated taking the lead to forge a path for our not-so-waterproof hiking boots.  The snow was losing it’s density from the morning thaw and the unpredictable depth created a number of humorous challenges and surprises!   The winter trails stopped with the peak in sight, so we finished our climb through unchartered snowbanks.

We were the first ‘spring’ hikers to Wannaköpfle!

Really, our “hike” was a lot of climbing through snow drifts and the tripping, falling, and laughing that goes with it — or Molly helping me rescue my foot from a deep snow well.  (Snow shoes should have been essential at this point!)   Thanks to the thaw we were able to walk on gravel part of the way which was a nice break for our damp feet.

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(Below) Halfway there— Time for a rest and a snack.

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Wannaköpfle (2031m)

Our destination! We found some mossy rocks where the snow had melted and made it our seat for lunch and munched while we took in the surroundings.

It was one of the mildest days of the month, and though we were surrounded by snow, the midday sun made the mountain perch a warm oasis. It was sunny, breezy, and nearly 60°F. We snapped photos and watched paragliders float over the valley.  It was a memorable moment for all of us — the views were completely worth the climb!


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Hiking (+ Beers) Day 2 

The next day, we all slept in. With sore legs and sopping wet boots, we opted for an easier ascent by taking the St. Gallenkirch Valiserabahn (a ski gondola) to another scenic Winterwandern path.  We were now on the other side of the valley in a ski area.  The path turned out to be less than 1km of hiking so we decided to spend the afternoon drinking beer at the Alpine Huttes!

We met a lively German man who took our group photo and recalled his trip to California as a young man in the 1970’s.  When he was there he bought a Mercury convertible to drive along the coast.  He laughed at his impulse because he had no idea how he would ship his new car back to Germany, but it all worked out and the week prior he had been cruising from his home near Lake Constance through the Alps!  🙂

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NachtRodeln 

Afterwards we rented Rodel, the traditional wooden Austrian toboggan. One winter attraction of the Montafon is a place that offers NachtRodeln a few evenings during the week, where you buy an inexpensive chairlift pass and ride to the top of  a 5km toboggan run.   We rented our Rodel on site where the tradition is to drink a shot of Schnapps before you set out.  You can watch a few clips of the action in Molly’s video below!

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Relaxing in Bartholomaeberg

Our accommodations were in a serene, quiet part of Bartholomaeberg. The village is referred to as the sun balcony of Montafon because of its southern exposure. The location had nice panorama views of the valley and we could have happily camped out there for the rest of the week!  For Derek and I, it was our last visit to the Alps for the foreseeable future which made it all the more special.  We were happy that we were able to share this memorable time with family.

After our trip to the Alps, we spent the next few days in Würzburg with Molly and Alex. They are a ton of fun and we loved having them as visitors!!

 

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(Above) Photos by the wonderfully talented– Molly and Alex

Budapest II

We had fun in the neighborhood where we stayed in the city. Budapest is divided into 23 districts.  We booked an apartment for the weekend using Airbnb. The website allows travelers to search for a private rental and book online. We have found some great, unique accommodations. Like this apartment in Budapest!

We stayed in District VI: A neighborhood outside of the center, but not far from the main sights in District V and within walking distance of Budapest Keleti train station.

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We have been relying on TripAdvisor and our travel guide for recommendations, and it has given us plenty of good, established places. When our host, a local, offered us a few of his favorite restaurants, we were ecstatic.  We have been missing our usual standby, Citypages, the Twin Cities weekly entertainment newspaper.

At the time we traveled to Budapest, the exchange was 221 Forint = 1 USD. 36 hours of food (and alcohol) in Budapest ran us about 28,000Ft (~125$USD). Which was significantly more favorable than the euro.

 

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We went to a couple places in trendy Gozsdu Udvar which was recommended by our host: Budapest Spiler and Kolor. 

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One of our favorite places was Szimpla Kert, a “ruin” bar, is in a dilapidated apartment building in what was once within the walled jewish ghetto of Budapest.  There are several bars in the area that follow this counter-model, but Szimpla Kert is easily the most well-known.  It is a combination bar, coffeeshop, music venue and cinema. And it is sort of a retro-funhouse filled with soviet era miscellany. One room felt like a 60’s beauty salon, another with old tv’s playing 8-bit 80’s video games. Throughout the venue were reel-to-reels with old films spliced together. (A guy planting a tree, a tour of Prague in the 70’s, folk dancers).  We had A LOT of fun at this bar—  It is huge, and felt pretty much like it sounds: walking through a dilapidated stone building where every room is a quirky new lounge.

 

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Sunday- after our deep soak at Széchenyi baths.  I had been looking for a place to try Lángos, Hungarian street food:  A deep-fried dough topped with cheese and sour cream.

 

 

The Markets
Budapest is known for Nagycsarnok ” Great Market Hall” with seemingly endless stalls of produce, pastry, cheeses and meats on the ground floor.  Above are Hungarian trinkets and souvenirs, and cooked food.

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The neighborhood we stayed in had a small market  which felt a lot more improvisational than the Great Market, and more true to where Budapest locals actually shop.  We had eyed a sketchy building across the square, which we thought was abandoned.  The morning we left I went out early to see more of the neighborhood and discovered it was a weekday market!

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Links

Make Langós
Make Somlói

1-Night in Heidelberg: Train and Accommodations

We took an early train from Würzburg to Heidelberg over the weekend! More about our time in Heidelberg here.

 

By Train
From Wurzburg you can purchase a two-person regional all-day ticket via the VRN for 20€. A good part of the rail follows the Neckar river, which really means: great views of the forested river valley!! — There is a distinct change in elevation as you leave central Bavaria and head toward the Black Forest.

Driving was also an option. Heidelberg is an easy, scenic 2-hr drive from Würzburg.  One could leave Bavaria and cross into the neighboring state of Baden-Württemberg, winding along the Neckar until you reach Heidelberg. A colleague recommended this route, it is beautiful in spring.

 

Where We Stayed
We took a page right out of the travel guide for this excursion.  Initially we thought the chances of finding a place to stay close to the train and in the Altstadt “Old City” were not likely, as Heidelberg is a popular international tourist destination.  We were visiting outside of the peak tourist season and found an opening at a unique place in the Marktplatz (market square).

The place we stayed is a 250-year-old Pension. Old hotels might deter some travelers, and in this case, we knew in advance what we were getting into– *a shared bathroom* (and shower). But it was hard to beat the location, or the price.  Upon arrival we paid the owner 55€ cash and dropped our bags.  The hotel was impeccably clean, and he upgraded our room.  So after walking through the rain we were happy travelers!

The room we were upgraded to was very comfortable.  I love updated old buildings.  And I am a sucker for furniture.  There was something in the room that was unlike the rest. The chair.

Me + chair = love.  I knew it had to be a designer chair, so I started looking for info. Structurally, it was perfect, and the mixed materials reminded me of the once-again chic mid-century modern furniture that is popping up everywhere. I won’t even get into ergonomics. I guessed maybe it cost $400. Nope. $2500.  Thought- better take a good look, because I won’t be seeing it again!! Of course, I pinned it to my Pinterest.  It has received industrial design awards and I think it might be at the MoMA.

ANDREA by Josep Lluscà (Spain 1986)

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*Okay, shared bathroom.  Oddly, If traveling to Kentucky I would -not- consider this! But an overnight in Heidelberg.. no problem.  Bring shampoo, don’t forget like I did.